“The Goal of Preferring Our Brother”
August 28, 2016: The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 17)
Proverbs 25: 6 – 12/ Psalm 112 / Hebrews 13: 1 – 8/ Luke 14: 1; 7 - 14
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
How do we receive the readings that we have today? What is our approach to the gospel? When we hear the instructions of Jesus in the gospel, do we say, “Okay, now I have learned the method. Jesus has given me an easy two-step method to exaltation. Now, I know what to do. Whenever I go to a function, I know the instructions: sit in the back and then somebody will bring me to the front. If I want to be blessed, I look for someone that needs help; and I give them help, then, I get blessed. These are the instructions on being a wonderful person, of getting a lot of wonderful things. It is getting what I want.”
If this is how we approach the readings today, we missed the point. The point is not getting one step further of getting personal satisfaction. This is not what the gospel is all about. God’s emphasis is not on a list of things to do. God did not give the Ten Commandments so that we would know the things to do and not to do. When Jesus preached the Beatitudes in at the Mount, it was not a set of things that we must do. The Bible is not about things to do; it is not a checklist.
God’s emphasis is not on doing but on being; on becoming. The Christian life is a life of becoming something, not just doing something. God’s focus is never on acts; on things we do; but on what we are becoming. We all have a birthday. On the day we were born, it was not the end of our creation. God wasn’t finished making us on our birthday. When we come out, there is physical growth that we have to undergo; there is also mental change. On the day we were born, we didn’t know everything that we need to know. We are also going a constant process of spiritual growth. It is a constant creation.
Our creation really began at conception – nine months before our birth. Another part of this creation was our new birth, our recreation by water and the Holy Spirit. Day by day, we are growing into our creation and we get closer to God’s goal in our finished product. The finished product that God is longing for us is being found in His image. We had a touch of that when we were born, but that wasn’t complete. We took a great step in our rebirth, but it is not yet complete. This is why St. Paul said, “He who began a good work in your creation will keep on doing it until the day of Christ Jesus.” He also said in 2 Corinthians, “Behold, the Lord stays, and from glory to glory, we grow more and more like Him.” In 1John, it says that when Jesus returns, we shall be like Him. We are not totally like Him when we are born because there is some growing that we have to do. God is still constantly creating us in His image.
This is what our life is all about, and why we exist – so that God can continue His creation that at the end of this age, He will have an army of children that can worship Him, praise Him, and serve Him in perfection because we will be like Him.. A lot of people in the Church don’t understand that our role is constantly growing, maturing and continuing God’s creation process in us. We think our life is basically being satisfied, being happy and being comfortable. For many people, their goal is just a comfortable life day by day. Our life is a constant struggle to feel good. This is where society has come to do – to feel good physically and emotionally.
There was a poet in the 20th century and one of her famous quotes goes, “I have learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Most people will agree with this. They say, “Yes, I don’t care about you. I don’t care who you are. What I care is how you make me feel.” The highest compliment that a young lady can pay a young man is, “Oh, he gives me the feels.” The guy would say the same thing with the girl. Forget about the character; the feel is what people are all concerned about. For most people, this is good enough and this is the way of life. However, this is not the gospel, the way of life. God has brought us here, caused us to be conceived, caused us to be born of a woman and He causes us to live our lives however many years as a process of becoming more like Him.
This is the approach about the gospel reading. What are we becoming? We don’t do things for self-exaltation or just so that we can be happy with ourselves and get a better prize at the end of life. It is a step in our becoming like the Lord, specifically in the character of humility and of generosity. Psalm 112:5 says, “It is well with the man who is gracious and lends.” Be generous; be gracious; help people. Verse 9 says, “He has given freely to the poor.” Why is it so important for us to have these characteristics in our lives? This is because this is what God does. It is part of His character, His image and His nature – to be generous and to humble Himself.
Do you realize that God humbles Himself? Psalm 112 tells us to be humble and generous. Psalm 113 explains to us how God is humble and generous. Psalm 113:5-6, “Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?” We praise and exalt the Lord because He is above all and yet He humbles Himself. When was the last time that we thought of God Almighty humbling Himself?
Verse 7-9, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap… He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children.” God is One who is concerned about the lowly. God is One who raises them up. God is One who is generous and helps those who have needs. This is His image and since we are here and our creation is continuing, this is who we should be.
God is love; we are love. God humbles Himself and helps the lowly; we humble ourselves to help the lowly. It is not for the goal of being exalted. It is not the attitude of, “If I bless somebody, God will bless and I will be rich beyond my wildest dreams.” It is our creation, continuing to be in God’s image. We hear a lot of times, “If I help somebody, I will get a good, warm, cozy feeling inside.” This is not why you do it; we do it because this is who God is, and our goal is to be found in the image of God.
Psalm 146 tells us about God’s generous nature and His nature to raise up the fallen. Verses 7-10, “God executes justice for the oppressed; He gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous; The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, and He reigns forever.” This becomes our goal because this is who God is. We submit ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit in us so that God can continue His creation of us into that divine image that He has set before us.
Deuteronomy 11 says that the poor will always be with us. Jesus quoted this Himself. Why is it that God wants the poor to be always with us? If God is God and God loves us, why can’t He just fix everything and make all the poor not poor anymore? Why can’t He just get rid of all poverty? If there is no poor, who is there for us to be generous and to help? If everybody gets everything that they need, how can we help the need if there is no needy? The needy are there so that we can exercise our divine nature of helping the poor. There are many who need help. Some just needs a hand to carry something. Some needs a person to take care of their children. Some needs help financially. In any way we help raise up the needy, we meet the need. Any way we can help the poor, we do. If they are not there, we can’t do this and this is part of our maturing and our growing.
God doesn't make the poor poor all the time. God raises up the poor; He empowers us to raise the poor. The poor will always be with us because there has to be someone for us to demonstrate and to practice our divine nature of humbling ourselves and raising up the fallen; of helping those who need a hand. There will always be someone who needs our help.
On July 31, Bishop Ariel was preaching about being rich toward God. He said some powerful statements. He said that to be rich towards God is the freedom and the joy to meet other’s needs using God’s provision. When we have a desire in our heart to meet other’s needs, God will provide this for us. He will give us the seed for sowing, and this is being rich toward God. It is being able, willing, and doing the helping of others. In this, we are being found in God’s image. Bishop Ariel also said that poverty is the absence of helping others no matter how much money we have. It is not what is in the bank, but it is our hearts towards people and what we do to help raise up those who are fallen and downtrodden.
People have many needs, including the need of Jesus. If we are isolated from others, and we don’t sense their needs and their lack of money and manpower to do what they need and their lack of Jesus, we are not in the image of God. Being in the image of God is being sensitive to all these things and having the desire to meet these and raise up those who are downtrodden. Bishop Ariel also said that money without love is poverty. Richness and poverty have nothing to do with the amount of money in our pocket. It has to do with the love that is in our heart and our willingness to share, to humble ourselves, and to help those in need. This is true riches.
Hebrews 13:5 says, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have.” You can be free from the love of money by being content with what you have. How can you be content if what you have is nothing much compared to the big amount that you owe somebody? St. Paul says to be content and he continues verse 5 saying, “For He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” We hear this verse quoted a lot and usually it is in the context of, “Sixteen hundred enemies are coming against me with big swords, breathing fire and shouting, ‘Kill him, kill him!’” We say, “Lord, please don’t desert me.” This verse is given in the context of our accounts payable and accounts receivable. In this situation, He says, “I won’t desert you. I won’t forsake you.” When we understand this, this is how we can be content in whatever the financial situation is. We can be generous; we can give freely to the poor; and we can give five minutes of our time to share the love of Jesus with somebody. We can do this because we understand that we are being remade in the image of God and created in His image. God is not One who backs off from others, especially the needy.
When I commute to work every day early in the morning at five o’clock, the bus is not the A-listers, but people who are constructions workers. I am glad to be with them in the bus to say, “Jesus loves the five o’clockcommuters too. Jesus loves the construction crew just like He loves the white collar crew.” God is not a respecter of persons that He does not look down on those who may have less material assets than others. God opens Himself freely to give to the poor. God is not a God who is isolated from His people, especially people who are in need. Neither should we be. If we are being found in His image, being created in His likeness, we also need to be those who are not isolated from those who may have a harder time in life. Above all, we need to understand that Christianity is a communal religion. It is where we are together.
Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” Thus, it says in verse 1, “Let the love of the brethren continue.” Let hospitality continue. All of these are part of God’s image. God is love; we are love. God is hospitable and He created this world and it belongs to Him. Psalm 115 says that He created the earth and He gave it to man. God gave us this wonderful place and this is hospitality. When the time comes, He is also going to let us stay in heaven, too, and this is being hospitable. He made heaven in perfection, the kingdom of God in His perfection and entirety, and says, “My people, stay with Me.” All of His children are part of one Body and this is community. Community is being in communion with those we can get along with and with those we don’t like.
With God, it is always together. It is not putting ourselves first, but preferring the other. A Filipino phrase goes, “Mauna ka.” We are not worried; we are content where God has us because for one thing, He is going to empower us to help raise someone else up. God so loved the world so much that He put the world first. “I will give up My only Son. Do I want to lose My Son? Do I want Him to suffer death on the cross? No! But for the earth and mankind, He says, “Mauna ka.” This is God’s nature and this is what is being made, built and created in us day by day, step by step. It is not what we can get out of it. It is not about how comfortable we are to be. It is all about “mauna ka”. How can we help? How can we raise up somebody.
In Luke 14:14, when we help the need, Jesus says, “You will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” What does it mean to be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous, which is also called “The Judgment Day”? Everything is about God preparing a people for His kingdom. God is preparing a people who understand the Kingdom – what it means to be poor in spirit; to be merciful and to be forgiving. At the end of this age, those who have understood the lessons, those who have participated in the change and have truly grown in the Lord and can say, “Yes, I am someone who looks to someone else first, who prefers my brother,” their reward is that they get to go on in the kingdom of God where there is no pain, no suffering, no lack.
The promises in the Book of Revelation are for those who have allowed themselves to be molded into the image of God through the fire, through the storms, through the tests and trials of life. Those who haven’t learned to be in the kingdom of God, those who haven’t allowed themselves to be changed in His image, to be someone who has in their hearts “mauna ka’ can’t go on in the Kingdom. When Christ returns, they are not like Him because they have not allowed themselves to be changed to be in His image. They have been concerned with the feel good that they are not ready for the kingdom of God. Those who have submitted themselves to the workings of God, the dealings of God, and the changes of God are ready to go into the Kingdom. Scriptures says, “Come, enter the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those who haven’t been submitted are left outside
God does not want people in the eternal Kingdom that do not know how to give, that do not know how to love. This is what the judgment is all about. The judgment is saying, “Who is ready and who is not.” It is not who has done the right deeds or not or have performed the right acts or not. It is he who has gone through the preparation and said, “Lord, mold me and make me into Your image.” It is about who knows to live in the kingdom of God. It is not about so much doing, but being and becoming. We are here to be transformed in the image of our Lord Jesus Christ for He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Let us open our hearts to the heart of God of humility and generosity. Understand that we are a part of a Body. We are community who lives life sharing with each other, being humble before each other and ready to give to each other.